The Power of Play
The famous psychologist Jean Piaget once said, “Play is the work of the child.” As speech-language pathologists, we completely agree! A child’s time spent playing is a critical part of how they learn communication, problem solving, social/emotional, and motor skills. A lot happens during play! Children are scooping, pouring, building, moving, pretending, thinking, and exploring. There is an integral symbiotic relationship between communication skills and play skills. As your child’s play skills expand, we expect to see a child’s language development expand too.
Why Do Children Play?
Play is the way in which children explore and learn about their world. Through play, children are figuring out how the world works. They are able to test out theories, make mistakes, and role play endless scenarios. Communication skills are an important part of this process. What starts as just listening to the world around them turns into using language while playing with adults or peers in order to request, comment, and problem solve together. Through language, children are able to connect with others and build new worlds in their play.
Play Skills Development in Concert with Language Skills
Play development and language development go hand in hand. As babies, children play and explore by mouthing items. Later, they start to explore how items fit together as they bang and dump as they coo and vocalize. As they grow, they begin to use objects more appropriately and with intention. You might see your child saying “Moo!” while they play with a toy cow or “Beep!” when they drive their toy car around. When children want to play with something, you might hear some first words as they request a toy they want. Later, as children’s pretend play skills grow and their world starts to expand, so will their vocabulary and ability to combine words to express what is happening in their play. Children will use language to describe, request, and work together while playing.
As you can see, play skills provide an important insight into a child’s language skills! As speech-language pathologists, the notion that language develops through play is what drives our therapy with many of our children. You will often see us on the floor, playing and imagining with our clients as we work to elicit speech and language skills. Additionally, delayed play skills can also give insight into whether or not a child has delayed communication skills.
How to Support Your Child’s Play at Home
Parents play an important role in helping their child learn through play. Here are some tips to support your child’s play and communication skills at home:
Join your child in play: Get on the floor with your child and see what interests them! Be excited about what they are excited about. Talk with your child while you play even if they can’t talk back yet.
See what your child is trying to do or figure out: Every time your child plays is an opportunity to learn and problem solve. Try to think about what they might be learning as they drop different toys in water or stack items on top of each other.
Provide support to accomplish their goals: Is your child interested in something up high? Lift them up to help them explore. Are they trying to build a tower? Help them get more blocks! Talk together with your child about what they might want, even if they cannot say it themselves yet.
Raise the bar when your child is ready: Is your child starting to crawl? Move their toys a little farther away to help them practice moving a little more. Is your child starting to talk? Hold their toy out of reach and see if they will ask for it first before giving it to them. Is your child starting to engage in pretend play? Suggest that the blocks they are stacking are a castle!
Have fun!: Play should be an enjoyable time for you and your child. You are your child’s favorite toy.
As you can see, there is good reason why speech-language pathologists incorporate play into therapy! Play is the fun way to build communication skills. If you have concerns or questions about your child’s play or communication skills, feel free to reach out!